In this month's exclusive interview, Matthew Sernett, lead designer of the new Tome of Magic, discusses the book's three new magic types -- pact, shadow, and truename magic... including what entities your characters can enter into pacts with.
In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards, and our thanks to all players who participated.
Wizards of the Coast: To start with an easy one (ha!): What inspired the creation of Tome of Magic?
Matthew Sernett: The concept for the book started with the idea of doing something about "advanced magic." We wanted to show people something new, and take magic to a different place for the game. We struck upon the individual themes for the three types of magic (pact magic, shadow magic, and truename magic) as the most interesting among several areas of magic that D&D hasn't explored very well up to this point.
Wizards:Tome of Magic looks to be three entire concepts rolled into a single sourcebook: pact magic, shadow magic and truename magic; in fact, each section has its own layout. Essentially, are these new magical elements that can be incorporated by existing spellcasting classes and with exiting systems (core spellcasting, psionics, incarnum)? Or are these separate systems, with their own core classes?
Matthew: Each is a new system with a core class yes, but there are many ways for someone who doesn't want to make a new character use the magic systems in the book. The systems are largely more straightforward than either psionics or incarnum, and they have a traditional place in fantasy and thus D&D.
Wizards:What classes are available for each of these systems? What party niche do they look to fill (i.e., do they each fill the traditional role of the party spellcaster, or something less defined such as the bard)? Will these new classes be able to take advantage of existing PrCs and spellcasting feats (and vice-versa)?
Matthew: There are three classes: binder, shadowcaster, and truenamer. All occupy the spellcaster role in a slightly different manner, with a strong ability to play in another role. The binder can be an artillery battery like a sorcerer, but the class can also stand in for the melee combatant or the stealth required by a scout. The shadowcaster makes a good tricky spellcaster and a stand-in for the rogue. The truenamer makes a good replacement for the wizard, but the class has powerful protective and curing abilities that can also make it a decent replacement for a cleric. The book provides feats for each of the classes, enough to allow for tons of different character builds. Most existing spellcasting prestige classes and feats won't be very appropriate for either the themes of the classes or their abilities, but some will work well.
Wizards:How does the pact magic system function? How are pacts started and ended?
Matthew: In essence, the binder goes through a ritual to summon a special spirit called a vestige. This might involve certain special conditions, but in all cases the binder must draw a seal peculiar to the vestige and call out to it. Then the binder and spirit take some time to strike a bargain--the pact. This can be roleplayed based on the personality of the spirit, but ultimately the spirit wants to be bound to the binder, and it's just a matter of whether or not that binding gives the spirit some control over the binder. The player playing a binder makes a special binding check to determine whether or not this is the case. When the bargain is struck, the summoned spirit vanishes. The binder remains bound to this spirit and may use the powers it grants until he makes a pact with another spirit (although binders of higher level may make pacts with more than one vestige at a time).
Wizards:How does pact magic differ from traditional divine spell casting; for example, what's the functional difference between a character who's made a pact with an archdevil, and a cleric that receives spells from an archdevil?
Matthew: Vestiges aren't devils and demons in the usual sense. That would relegate pact magic to evil PCs and NPCs. Also, I didn't want a character to lose abilities because someone kills the demon or devil the pact was made with. Instead, vestiges are strange amoral beings that most churches, good or evil, consider taboo because the spirits can't be touched by the gods. All vestige-granted abilities are supernatural, making them impossible to dispel. Also, vestiges inhabiting a binder can't be banished or killed. Only an antimagic field can stop a binder from using his vestige-granted powers.
The powers vestiges grant rarely resemble spells in any significant fashion. As with all supernatural abilities, there are no components of any kind. Some require an action to use, but others are simply always active, such as if a vestige grants damage reduction.
One example vestige includes Acererak, fiendish creator of the Tomb of Horrors.
Acererak, the Devourer: Acererak, a half-human lich, grasped at godlike power only to lose his grip on reality. As a vestige, he grants abilities that are similar to a lich's powers.
Wizards:If vestiges aren't devils and demons in the traditional sense, what sort of entities can offer you pacts? Strictly of the evil variety, or with good outsiders, or other entities as well (such as lost souls, undead)? If you were to make a pact with an entity, which one would you choose?
Matthew: Vestiges are spirits detached from the multiverse. They exist not on any plane or in any place anyone can reach. Their only window into reality comes from being summoned by binders making pacts with them. That's why they do it--to get a glimpse outside the otherworldly prison in which they somehow reside. Binders allow them to peer through the bars. These spirits might once have been angels, devils, gods, or mortals--and examples of all of those exist in the book--but existing separate from reality has twisted them and driven the mad. Vestiges aren't really good or evil. They lend their abilities to anyone with the power to reach them, granting power just to hear, see, and feel again.
Wizards:How does the shadow magic system function? What precisely is the difference between a mystery and a standard spell?
Matthew: Mysteries and spells share many similarities, but as you gain levels and your connection to the Plane of Shadow grows, mysteries become easier to cast, changing from spells to spell-like abilities, and finally to supernatural abilities. Mysteries follow certain paths of philosophy, and a shadowcaster can be a jack-of-all-trades or a specialist.
Wizards:How does shadow magic differ from (or interact with) the shadow subschool of Illusion spells? Does it overlap or replace it?
Matthew: The shadow subschool barely scratches the surface of what shadow magic can do. Shadow spells are only partially real, and thus depend on belief for their full efficacy. A few mysteries have a similar restriction, but all the others are wholly real, transforming the environment, creatures, or the existence of energies with material drawn directly from the Plane of Shadow.
Wizards:Is there relation between shadow magic and shadow weave from the Forgotten Realms, or the flying city of shadovar and the race of shades?
Matthew: The book does talk about this. In essence, no. In shadow magic, the shadowcaster is a conduit to the Plane of Shadow. The shadowcaster causes magic to happen by drawing bits of the Plane of Shadow through that connection. The shadow weave represents the negative space in the weave on Toril, using the flipside of traditional magic and spells. Although the shadovar lived on the Plane of Shadow, the two forms of magic are very different. Of course, having lived on the Plane of Shadow, I'm certain many shadowvar employ shadow magic and are probably the means of its introduction to the Forgotten Realms.
Wizards:What exactly is meant by truenames, and how are they being used to fuel spellcasting -- if someone were to learn your truename (hint: Matthew Sernett) what powers could they hold over you?
Matthew: Truenames aren't quite that simple. Truenames represent part of a universal language, the strange words of power that existed as soon as anything existed. Thus truenames encompass everything, not just people's names. Truenames function on the idea that you can manipulate things by knowing the syllables that make up their truename. Just as my truename would change as I change, so too could you change me by changing my truename.
Wizards:Is there any relation between truename magic and the True Name (Words of Creation) from Book of Exalted Deeds?
Matthew: Yes, to a degree. The various power-word spells rely on a simple utterance to create a grand effect, and by doing so they scratch the surface of truenames. Similarly, the True Name (Words of Creation) from Book of Exalted Deeds represent a partial understanding of truenames.
Wizards:How would you go about finding truenames? Do these affect only creatures (such as those you face in combat), or objects as well? That is, what beings possess truenames?
Matthew: Using truenames requires ranks in the Truespeak skill. This represents your character delving deeper into the mystery of the universal language. When you use a truename you've learned, you make a Truespeak check to pronounce it properly. Truenames can affect anything, but you learn names that do specific things.
Wizards:Were there any particular sources (e.g., real world books, movies, etc.) used when devising pact, shadow and truename magics?
Matthew: Many sources were used as inspiration, but in all cases we couldn't merely adapt an idea. We took ideas and made them work for D&D--work within the concepts the game already presents and for the needs of game play. The pact magic section is a good example of this. Everyone has heard of the tale of Faust, but the ideas in that story might make an interesting adventure, not the foundation for a new class and a bunch of new game mechanics. We had to take sources of inspiration and use them to make something unique and very D&D while at the same time echoing the ideas that everyone has about those kinds of magic.
Wizards:As we saw in Magic of Incarnum and the Expanded Psionics Handbook, monsters are often created that incorporate new systems. How did you come up with the monsters based on these new magic systems?
Matthew: The monsters in each section were designed to incorporate and reflect the magic the section describes and also to fulfill any needs that section might have. For example, for the pact magic section, because the vestiges never appear in the flesh, I wanted creatures that could bring the strange nature of the vestiges into the "physical reality" of a typical D&D game. On the other hand, the shadow magic section provides creatures that can be summoned by casting specific mysteries.
Dark creatures dwell on the Plane of Shadow, sometimes crossing into other planes where the barriers between dimensions are weak. Just as parts of the Plane of Shadow resemble a strange, distorted version of the Material Plane, dark creatures superficially resemble creatures from the Material Plane. Dark creatures are shadowy, more elusive, and spookier than their material counterparts.
Wizards:Is there information for the DM on creating their own pacts, shadow, or truename magic, or plans for future product support of these systems?
Matthew: Each section provides enough material for years of play without the need for more support, but some will likely be created. For example, Dragon #341 has an article I authored which provides two new vestiges (Kas the Bloody Handed and Primus, the One and the Prime), each with a suite of new powers. The book doesn't contain any exhaustive advice for DMs about creating new elements for the system; we had a tough time fitting what's already in there. Such advice might make a good article for the website though...